Friday, March 25, 2016

Review: Harry Potter and the Classical World: Greek and Roman Allusions in J.K. Rowling's Modern Epic by Richard A. Spencer

Synopsis: J.K. Rowling has drawn deeply from classical sources to inform and color her Harry Potter novels, with allusions ranging from the obvious to the obscure. "Fluffy," the vicious three-headed dog in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, is clearly a repackaging of Cerberus, the hellhound of Greek and Roman mythology. But the significance of Rowling's quotation from Aeschylus at the front of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is a matter of speculation. Her use of classical material is often presented with irony and humor.
This extensive analysis of the Harry Potter series examines Rowling s wide range of allusion to classical characters and themes and her varied use of classical languages. Chapters discuss Harry and Narcissus, Dumbledore's many classical predecessors, Lord Voldemort's likeness to mythical figures, and magic in Harry Potter and classical antiquity among many topics. (from the back of the book)

Review: Although light in tone, Spencer's book is firmly a textbook. This I did not know when I requested it. That made it more challenging for me to read, but also envious of those with the chance to take college courses in Harry Potter. With obvious enthusiasm, Spencer dives into a detailed description on the motifs and themes of the Greek and Roman classics. To start, he explains in his introduction why he only included Greek and Roman classics (as opposed to biblical or near east), why he only consulted the seven books and not the additional material like interviews and Pottermore, and why he thinks Rowling’s use of mythology is important. From there, he moves into exploring the three main characters, as he sees them – Harry Potter, Albus Dumbledore, and Lord Voldemort. He then writes about Major and Supporting Characters, Magical Beings and Materials, and the Classical Languages used in Harry Potter.
While his knowledge of Harry Potter and Greco-Roman mythology is extensive, I’m not sure there is quite enough for the whole book. Several times, particular in the chapters on Beings and Material and Supporting Characters, it seemed he was stretching a bit to find the connection. Or, assuming Rowling meant more by the name that she really may have (although, he states in the beginning he doesn’t claim to know her mind or motives, and so, he may be right.). I found his Appendix on the “Ring Composition” of Rowling’s work to be most enlightening. Rowling has been called a literary genius for her use of that literary device and Spencer’s appendix makes it clear how deeply woven into the narrative this device is.
While I’m not sure this book would appeal to your average Harry Potter fan, it will appeal to your diehard or academically-minded. And for anyone who also enjoys Greco-Roman mythology, this is a must-read. Spencer’s tone is jovial and accessible, if somewhat repetitive, and although it reads like a textbook, it’s not overly complicated or difficult. I recommend as a fine addition to the library of any Harry Potter fan. 

Note: I received this free as part of LibraryThing's Early Review Program, in exchange for my fair and honest opinion. 

Bookmarks: 7 of 10

Awards: None

ISBN: 978-0-7864-9921-2
Year Published: 2015
Date Finished: 3-23-2016
Pages: 315

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